Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Book Review

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
By Mary Roach

I really enjoyed this book. Yes, there were some really gross parts, but the book was framed in humor. Lots of information my 12 year old son would call "disgustingly cool".

I learned that when you decide you’re going to “donate your body to science”, there are a lot of places you can end up. Your head could end up in a practice session for plastic surgeons. ( “Gosh, I couldn’t afford a nose job when I was alive, now I get one for free”). Or, I could end up in an anatomy lab where first year medical students learn there way around the human body. I guess the students are having memorial services for their cadavers these days. To thank them for services rendered. Or, my personal favorite and stomach-turner: you could end up being a resident on the “body farm” at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. This is a place where cadavers are left in all sorts of states, conditions etc to allow forensic experts to interpret a crime scene. So bodies are stuffed into car trunks, tossed into a pond, wrapped up in a Hefty trash bag, etc. Then they are “checked” periodically so time after death can be correlated with the events of decay: bloating, maggots (two kinds!!), liquefaction, etc. Fascinating. I was reading this on the bus one day and got a bit queasy. I’m sure it was the motion of the bus.

The book goes on to give juicy details about things I’ve always wondered about like but were kind of afraid to ask: how does embalming work, how long does it last, why is cremation on the increase, why might it soon be on the decrease (a new method can now be used to dissolve your body so you go down the drain. Really.) Then there’s the part about trying to communicate with freshly guillotined heads. One appeared to respond for a few seconds AFTER being separated from his body. This was back when people were trying to decide if the soul was in the brain or the heart. I think they were trying to prove that since the head “responded”, that’s where the soul resided, although one presumes it left a few seconds later. The book doesn’t say where it went. Or the Soviet scientist who was working on head transplants. Apparently successful with a dog, humans didn’t work out so well. I’m trying to imagine this dog in obedience class……….

All things considered (and this author considers a lot!), Stiff is a fascinating read with a lot of dark humor. If you want to prove you are tough, read it while you are eating. Bon appetit!

The New Job: Or Why I Haven't Posted Lately

I haven’t posted for a bit. Someone told me February 3. Long time. Well, I got a job after a long period without one. I’m liking it but jobs take up time! But I’m going to try to get back to a regular posting.

I work for my friend Dick in his Ocular Pathology lab at the Vet School on the UW Campus. Our work involves diagnosing the diseases, the pathology, of eyes from animals all over the world. These eyes aren’t working too well, or are painful to the animal, so veterinarians remove them, send them to the lab, where we process them and Dick or his Fellow, Carol, “read out” the cases. That is, they diagnose the disease and report it back to the submitting clinician. The eyes of the world are on us…..or at least, come to us! When the eyeballs come in via US mail, FedEx, UPS, etc, one of my jobs is to “cut in” which means cut the eyeball into pieces which can then be run through the tissue processor and ultimately cut into 5 micron “sections” which are then stained and viewed under the microscope. I like this cutting in process. I always try to determine the disease in the eye from the description before I cut it open. It’s like having a Whitman Sampler of eyeballs. To quote Forrest Gump, “You never know what you’re gonna get”. The eye is an incredible organ. I have a new respect for it. Science often shows me the wonders of the world. The eye is one of those wonders.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Dissent of an Officer

The first trial of a commissioned officer who refused to deploy to Iraq starts Monday.
By Dean Paton | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Carolyn Ho was at her apartment that overlooks Kaneohe Bay on the windward side of Oahu, on another enviable evening of silk-shirt temperatures, when the phone rang. It was New Year's Day 2006. Her son, Ehren, was calling from Fort Lewis, near Tacoma, Wash., where he was stationed as an artillery officer in the US Army.
She assumed he was calling to wish her a happy New Year. He had something else on his mind. He told her he was opposed to the war in Iraq and was going to refuse to deploy there. "I was surprised and pretty much went ballistic over it," recalls Ms. Ho. "I tried to talk him out of it."
A week later, Ho – with the help of a Kahlil Gibran poem reminding her that we don't really own our children – changed her mind and has supported her son ever since. Proudly Fiercely.
On Monday she will be doing it again as 1st Lt. Ehren Watada goes on trial in a military court as the nation's first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq.
It's a trial with significance beyond Lieutenant Watada. The case will provide a test of how far officers can go in resisting an order and how much they can criticize their superiors – notably the commander in chief. Over time, Watada came to believe that the Bush administration lied about the reasons for invading Iraq and concluded its actions were "illegal and immoral."
The Pentagon, however, argues that no soldier can pick and choose assignments, something that would undermine a core tenet of the military – the command structure. It also says that when people join the Army, they lose some of the free-speech rights of a civilian.
Thus Watada faces two charges of conduct unbecoming an officer, for his suggestion that President Bush "deceived" Americans, and one count of "missing movement." Two other charges were dropped. He could get a maximum sentence of four years in prison.
The trial comes at a time when the antiwar movement is gaining strength, which has added to its symbolic importance. Almost overnight, Watada has become a poster child for critics of the war – a sort of Cindy Sheehan in fatigues. He speaks at public rallies. His father addressed the antiwar protest in Washington D.C. last weekend.
Yet beneath it all lies the story of how a one-time Eagle Scout and model patriot came to be a war resister – one willing to suffer time in prison to prove the "generals, the Congress, and the president" are a "threat to the Constitution."

As a child growing up in Honolulu, Watada remembers "playing war. Who didn't? Who didn't watch 'G.I. Joe'?" His mother recalls "a reflective child. When I would take him to soccer practice he always listened intently to his coach; he wasn't horsing around like the other kids."
Young Watada was a two-sport athlete: soccer and football. He also rose to the top in the local Boy Scouts. "Some of that desire to be in the military came from that," he says – "the dedication to service, loyalty, morality."
In his early 20s, Watada delivered packages during the day while finishing school at night. Then terrorists struck in New York and Washington. "I always wanted to join the military – and, especially after 9/11, a lot of us wanted to do more," he says. "We had this call to duty."
Watada already had a strong military heritage in his family, which is of mixed origin: his mother is Chinese-American, his father Japanese-American. Both grandparents on his mother's side served in the US Army and were stationed in China. Two of his father's brothers enlisted as translators and interrogators in World War II. Another died in Korea, and a fourth later joined the US Marines. "We served when we were asked," Watada says. His father, Robert, took a different path. Ehren Watada says his father saw Vietnam as a "very racist war." So he joined the Peace Corps and went to South America.
When it came time for Watada to enlist, he was diagnosed with asthma and declared physically unfit. He paid $800 to have an outside test done and was accepted into the Army's college-option program. He completed basic training in June 2003, and went to Officer Candidate School in South Carolina. He emerged 14 weeks later as a 2nd lieutenant. "Nothing dissuaded me from wanting to be in the military, not even the war in Iraq," he says. "I believed in the war. I believed in the president. I believed there were weapons of mass destruction."
During a yearlong tour in Korea, he served under a commander who told his junior officers that if they didn't learn everything about their mission, they would be mediocre leaders Рand fail those serving under them. The earnest Watada took this to heart in his own way. When he returned to Fort Lewis, he began researching Iraq. The expos̩ at Abu Ghraib prison fueled his doubts about the war. He read the report of the Iraq Survey Group, a team formed after the 2003 invasion to see if weapons of mass destruction existed. It found they didn't. He studied the United Nations Charter, the Nuremberg Principles, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Later, after concluding that Saddam Hussein had no ties to Al Qaeda, as the president had claimed, he became more disillusioned: "And I said, 'Wow – it's not bad intelligence; it's manipulative intelligence.' When you put it all together, I became convinced that what we're doing is illegal and immoral. I went into a short period of deep depression. I was so shocked. I felt betrayed."
In early 2006, after telling his family of his decision not to deploy, Watada went to see his commanding officer. "I was very nervous," he says. He offered to train his replacement. He offered to fight in Afghanistan instead of in Iraq. Both requests were denied. On June 5, 2006, he called a press conference to announce that he would not fight in a war he considered "illegal and immoral." Soon afterward, the Army took a step of its own – launching an investigation that resulted in the convening of a court-martial. Watada looks trim and athletic,though not large. He has neatly cropped black hair and today is dressed in a gray sweater, blue jeans, and running shoes. He has just addressed a crowd of 60 people at a church here in Bellevue.
As his case has gained notoriety, and his trial neared, he has been speaking out about the war at public rallies and to the media. In a 90-minute interview at the church, he talks matter-of-factly about his possible court-martial and position at the vortex of a national debate.
Not surprisingly, he is both vilified and vaunted. Letters to the editor here have called Watada a coward and a traitor. Many members of his Fort Lewis unit were shocked and angered at his decision. "Soldiers can't just pick and choose which war they would like to fight or where they would like to deploy," says Joseph Piek, a civilian public information officer at the base.
His family has been engulfed in the controversy, too. His mother asked the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) to back her son. One influential group – the storied 442 Infantry, an all-Japanese unit that served in World War II – was adamant: Watada is being unpatriotic. In the end, the JACL voted 7 to 5 to stand by him.
While his mother doesn't want to "dwell" on what might happen at the trial, Watada is prepared for the worst. His older brother, Lorin, has come here to help pack up his apartment.
"To me, it's a worthwhile sacrifice," Watada says over a buffet lunch. "I didn't enter into this cause because I thought I had a great case, especially in the military justice system."
He adds: "And I didn't want the people of the world to look back on America and say, 'Why didn't Americans stand up against this?' "

Friday, February 2, 2007

A Quaker Clearness Committee

Just got back from a clearness committee for a young man, a sophomore in high school who wants to join a Quaker work trip to El Salvador. Quaker's use clearness process to help an individual become "clear" on his or her intentions. This includes things like marriage, membership in the Quaker Meeting, major life crises, and work trips to El Salvador. This was my first time joining a clearness committee, although I'd gone through the process myself when I became a member a couple of years ago. At that time, I felt energized and much loved by the people of my spiritual community. I wondered tonight, as I drove to the west side of town, how I would feel being on the other side of the proceedings.

There were five of us, in addition to the young Friend. We had some delightful soup, enjoyed the warmth of the wood stove (it's -11 out now!) and chatted casually for a bit. Then, after some silence, maybe five minutes, the young man spoke out of the silence about his "leading" to join this trip. He spoke clearly, honestly and with some humor. I was moved by his clarity and the passion that was there. I remember being a sophomore in high school, and not having anything approaching clarity at that point in my life! (of course I WAS raised Methodist, but that's another post......). Then we asked a few questions from the list the trip coordinators had provided. After a bit of this formal questioning, things opened up to the Spirit, as people shared and asked questions that were not on the list. It felt very intimate and wonderful. The young man spoke of his guilt at being a wealthy American, compared to the average Salvadoran. I asked him how he could use his spirituality to transform that guilt into something creative. He didn't have an answer. I don't have one right now, either. Maybe later.

It was the "sense" of the committtee that this young man was clear about his intentions to join this trip. We had suggestions of things he could do to prepare before he leaves in July. We will write a "minute", which is like a Quaker letter of approval, but with more depth. Afterwards, we stood around the flickering wood stove. No one was in a hurry to leave. The wood stove was warm and I was among F/friends.

When I walked out into the Arctic night, I felt energized and much loved. I truly feel it was a gift to have been asked to be there. I hope the youg man feels some of the same.

Barbaro: Beautiful Animal or Valuable Property?

Yes, I was saddened about the passing of this horse. I was saddened because it was a beautiful, strong animal. Also, felt the sadness you felt abut the amount of money and expertise being used for this horse. I guess I've been reflecting on whether this was a beloved horse or property in the owner's eyes. Possibly, probably, both. I didn't see the price tag for all the vet care, but I'm sure it was millions. A small price to pay when the owners would get millions for his sperm, as a stud.

In my veterinary work, I often encounter people maintain that it’s obscene to spend so much on pets when there are people in need. It may seem ridiculous to them that pets are getting hip replacements, root canals, kidney transplants. But these are someone's beloved animal. An animal that has given so much love, the owner wants to give back and is able financially to give back.

Some people spend thousands on boats, cars, trucks, etc. There is so much wealth in this country it IS obscene that people around the world have no health care, not enough food or water. I watch the City of Madison guys flushing the hydrants around our neighborhood so we can have clear water, low in manganese or whatever. That results in 40-60,000 gallons of potable water down the sewer. Each time they flush! Yes, it’s obscene. Perhaps Barbaro is just one of those manifestations. I once made the comment to a friend that we here on the East Side are incredibly wealthy compared to the rest of the world. She didn't get it. Most Americans don't get it.

The American Thoroughbred race horse is bred to do what it really fast. So, you've got this Michael Jordan of horses, 1200 pounds on four thin legs. Compare the thickness and length of a racehorse’s leg to that of a zebra and you'll see how our genetic intervention has created an animal that is almost a broken leg waiting to happen. Maybe that's obscene. I don't know.

Just a few thoughts. Thanks for yours.

The article that follows, from the Boston Globe, presents a different view on Barbaro.

Boston Globe Editorial: Losing Barbaro

February 2, 2007

It is worth pondering why there was such an outpouring of sympathy for Barbaro, last year's Kentucky Derby winner, during his long struggle to survive a fractured hind leg -- and why so many expressions of condolence were addressed to his owners after they had him euthanized Monday to spare him terminal suffering.

Part of the answer has to do with a love of horses that takes root in diverse people at different stages of life. Any boy or girl who ever had the luck to ride and care for horses will be inclined to grieve for the loss of Barbaro. And even adults who missed having horses in their childhood possess the innate capacity for compassion with all sentient beings.

But there is another explanation for the emotional force of Barbaro's story, something close to the spirit of literature. Conscious or not, reasoned or not, the millions who watched Barbaro striding in triumph down the homestretch at Churchill Downs in May were taking part in a ritual metaphor of cyclical renewal.

This is the essence of thoroughbred racing, at least when the best horses compete in the classic races. When all the ephemera of betting and marketing are peeled away, to see a colt like Barbaro re enact the feats of a Secretariat or a Man O' War is to share in a celebration of the striving after excellence.

So there was all the more cause for grief when, two weeks after Barbaro's awesome performance in the Kentucky Derby, the colt who seemed destined to join the select roster of Triple Crown winners fractured his right hind leg in the first furlong of the Preakness. Suddenly, the ever-present peril that racing folk understand only too well -- the doom that comes with a single bad step -- descended on Barbaro of the infinite promise.

It was an unforgettable, mournful tableau. Barbaro's accomplished jockey, Edgar Prado, (who started his ascent to stardom here at Suffolk Downs) reined in the distressed colt, dismounted and grasped the reins, trying to keep Barbaro from doing any more damage to his shattered right hind leg. In a tick of time, the allegory of excellence had become a tale of suffering and loss.

In the intervening eight months, while caring veterinarians and surgeons tried to save Barbaro, his fans hoped he might survive as a stallion to pass his brilliance on to future generations. When he was put down mercifully Monday, his death became an allegory of unfulfilled potential.

But the cycle of renewal goes on. This weekend in Florida, three-year-old colts will run in the Holy Bull Stakes, the first Derby prep Barbaro won last year. Each new season invites the appearance of another Barbaro.